Trade & labour: not so fast

Where are we now? Where are we headed?

John Langmore

It is timely to review the trade and labour debate, for there has been an extension of our experience in both areas in recent years that suggests the possibility of the evolution of positions.

One significant step has been the global agreement at the United Nations conferences during the nineties about the centrality of equitable economic and social development. The most powerful summation of that unanimity about aims is the Declaration of the Millennium Assembly held in September 2000, from which the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are derived.

It is important to recall that the framework for the explicit targets of the MDGs is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 1948 Universal Declaration is not only about freedom of speech and belief, but also freedom from fear and want. Though the Universal Declaration is remembered by many for the political rights it expresses, it is also a strong expression of economic and social rights, such as the right to work, the right to education and social security, the right to an adequate standard of living for health and wellbeing, and the right to rest and leisure for both women and men. It also includes the right to form and join trade unions. As well, Article (28) states that 'Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised.'

The ILO Conventions, some of which predate the Universal Declaration, are an especially important expression of the global framework of human rights. There are now over 7000 ratifications of the 184 ILO Conventions by the 175 member states of the Organisation, an average of 40 ratifications for each member state. India, for example, has ratified 39, and the US 14.

There has been growth of support for the standards expressed in these Conventions in recent